Former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell was determined that his astonishing story of survival against the odds in Afghanistan be portrayed accurately on the big screen and he will no doubt be pleased with Peter (Battleship, Kingdom) Berg’s nerve-shredding Lone Survivor. From a soldier’s point of view, it gets over the all the fear, panic and tension involved when a mission goes wrong.
It’s a visceral two hours that really takes you into the war zone, as we follow Luttrell and three colleague as they’re dropped into a Taliban held area in the mountains near Bagram Airbase in 2005. On a mission to kill or capture al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd who’s been targeting US soldiers, Luttrell and co hole up in the foothills above the village where Shahd has been sighted and set themselves up for a clinical operation.
But their plans are scuppered when some goatherds from the village stumble across them and “ after much wrangling about whether they should let them go or not “ the soldiers decide to release the villagers and abandon the mission. Within minutes, heavily armed Taliban and al Qaeda militia are on their tail and the Americans face a desperate fight to stay alive against overwhelming odds.
Lone Survivor is thoroughly gripping and unrelenting. Shot in the hand-held, shaky camera style that is now de rigeur for war movies, it fully immerses you in the US soldier’s increasingly frantic bid to survive amid a barrage of bullets, blasts and explosions. There’s barely any respite and we’re made to feel every bone-crunching fall and flesh-ripping wound the American soldiers suffer. Of course, as it’s told from a US point of view, we don’t see the excruciating pain of the Afghans being killed “ they’re just the bad guys and perhaps understandably so from the viewpoint of a US soldier. Only towards the end do we get a sense of the suffering of the ordinary Afghan people who are under the constant threat of Taliban or al Qaeda violence.
An impressive cast is led by Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell, Taylor Kitsch as team commander Michael Murphy, Emile Hirsch as communications man Danny Dietz and Ben Foster as the remarkably resilient Matt Axelson. Bookending footage of the actual soldiers around the fictionalised account of their mission, gives the film extra emotional heft although some may find this a bit too much of a concession to patriotism and right-wing tendencies. And the use of Peter Gabriel singing Heroes at the end strikes a false note.
What’s not in doubt though is that Lone Survivor is a thoroughly engrossing account of a truly remarkable survival story that makes you feel “ as much as you can “ that you were there amid the blood and bullets. While it’s a film that celebrates the braveness of the soldiers involved, it certainly doesn’t celebrate war, providing an unflinching depiction of the horrors on the ground.